Our (in)ability to pay attention.

14 May


Information on almost any topic has never been as abundant as readily available to us as it is now. We live just couple clicks away from our emails, the latest news on BBC, our friends’ lives on Facebook, music videos on YouTube and lot of other more or less important stuff elsewhere on the internet. In this environment, lot of people are finding it increasingly difficult to focus only on one task and to pay attention to it.

Silicon Valley based technologist and blogger Mike Elgan argues that while during the industrial era it was hard work that lead to success in nowadays information age it is an ability to pay attention that takes us forward. And he is right! I can see it on myself and on my friends when studying for exams these days. The latest issue of the Economist very aptly notes that ‘trying to hold the attention of people with BlackBerrys at a meeting is like trying to teach Latin to delinquent teenagers.’ Such meetings can than go on for hours even though given full attention of all participants, the issue under discussion might have been solved in much shorter space of time.

However we should not get too depressed about our perceived inability to pay attention because of the current information ‘overkill’. As the Economist continues to point out, ‘Socrates’s bugbear was the spread of the biggest ever innovation in communications – writing. He feared that relying on written texts, rather than oral tradition would create forgetfulness in learners’ souls.’ And therefore as the generations before us learned to utilize writing to drive further progress, we should attempt to learn how to harness the unprecedented amount information available to us for our benefit rather than shut ourselves from it.

The ability to focus and to pay attention however remains our priority and that reminds me of the fact that I should probably get back to my revision…

Thanks to Lydia from AIESEC Ghana who pointed me to Mike Elgan and to his article on this toppic. You can read the full article at http://www.internetnews.com/commentary/article.php/3793561/Work-Ethic-20-Attention-Control.htm

The other article in question is Don’t shoot the messenger, The Economist, May 15th – 21st 2010

One Response to “Our (in)ability to pay attention.”

  1. David Hama May 15, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    >I couldn't focus on reading the above article – can you summarize it in bullet-points? Even better… pictures!

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